By now, it’s no secret that African Americans are still reeling from the death of their beloved, beloved leader, Martin Luther King Jr. The Black Panther Party (BPP) was a radical organization that aimed to bring an end to the rule of white supremacy and institutional racism.
But now, that legacy lives on as a musical instrument that the group is using for their own personal musical enrichment, and it’s been featured in a new book by African American author T.W.E.N. Johnson.
Johnson, the author of the best-selling book Black History: A Musical History of the People of the United States, tells NPR that she was inspired to write the book after hearing about the BPP’s history.
“I thought to myself, ‘Well, what would this music look like?’
And it just really took off from there,” she says.
The BPP, which Johnson describes as “the world’s most powerful African American organization,” was founded in 1966 and was a political party dedicated to the political overthrow of the government of President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Republican.
The organization was founded by the late civil rights leader Huey P. Newton, and was founded to advocate for racial justice and the advancement of African American civil rights.
The group’s mission statement, as described in the book, is “to abolish the State of slavery in the United State, and to establish an African American nation in the midst of the White South.”
Johnson points out that while many people have credited King for inspiring the Black Panthers, he was actually one of the most famous members of the Black Panther Movement, who was not the first person to call for racial equality.
“He’s one of those people who has made a lot of noise about it,” she tells NPR.
“In fact, he went on a tour of the U.S. with the Black Liberation Army, which was a very different group.
So he really had a very big impact on the Black liberation movement.
And so, I thought that that was really important to me, that there was a black man who really stood for something.”
Johnson says the story of her African American son, Sam, who has a passion for musical instruments that spans generations, can be traced back to his father, who grew up in Detroit and was the first black person to graduate from college.
“His father was an accomplished musician and played the piano, so I think that sort of influenced him to want to do something,” Johnson says.
“His father and his mother were so much into the black music.
They were like the jazz musicians in their day, so he was very interested in jazz music, too,” Johnson continues.
“When I was a little girl, I loved jazz music.
I would sit on my dad’s piano and play the piano.
It was his favorite instrument.”
Johnson also points out the BSP’s history of activism, especially in the fight for racial rights.
“There were a number of things that they did in the civil rights movement that they didn’t do because of the racist history of the white supremacy,” Johnson explains.
“They weren’t able to get equal pay for equal work, they weren’t allowed to get food stamps, they didn’ t have equal housing, they couldn’t get the right to vote.
But there were many things that the Black people in Detroit were able to do that the white people didn’t.”
Johnson, who lives in Chicago, says her son is now engaged in the arts and is looking forward to collaborating with others in the future to create musical instruments.
She tells NPR she has a few ideas on what she wants to do with her son’s instrument collection, including a piano with the BPL logo.
“He really is really interested in being a musician, and I think he’s going to want a piece of his father’s musical instrument collection,” Johnson adds.